Anecdote – Eight years old and lost on the London Underground

Anecdote – Eight years old and lost on the London Underground

Walton and Hersham were a very second rate football team. They played in the Ishmium League, whatever that is, and I used to go along with a group of friends from my estate because they might have been second-rate but they were our team. Most of the crew who met up at the ground were older boys. Walton was never going to be a big club – we won some and we lost some, and dribbled along. It was even clear to we small lads that we were nothing special and not destined to amount to much. That didn’t matter. They were still our team and we had allegiance. Besides, I was only eight. There were more important things.

Then a miracle happened; we won a few matches in the FA Cup and we were drawn against the mighty Hammers from the 1st Division. West Ham was a top team and this draw caused a great deal of excitement. Walton and Hersham were going to play at Upton Park, a first division venue. It was extremely exciting.

Plans were drawn up. A group of the bigger boys were going all the way up to London to support Walton. It was quite an adventure. Of course I wanted to go. After much wheedling my mum agreed. She made the older boys promise to look after me.

We set off on the train. We arrived at Waterloo and transferred to the Tube. I’d never been on a Tube train before. We were having a great time. Everything was new. Even our sandwiches tasted special. We arrived at Upton Park. I couldn’t see a thing because I was tiny and we were at the back. All I could see was the backs of the men in front of me. But the atmosphere was brilliant. The noise and the way they all surged forward every time the ball came up our end, the chanting and hand-clapping. It was all very tribal, primitive and dangerous. You could smell the hormones as you were crushed in the throng. All those minds were locked in together with one focus. It set the pulse racing.

Of course, we were soundly beaten but that was exactly what we had expected. We knew we didn’t have a gnat pee in a hurricane of a chance. That’s not why we had gone. We’d gone to soak up that atmosphere and feed it into our dreams. It was an experience.

After the match it took us a while getting out of the ground and we were late. We had to run. We had to make it back to Waterloo to catch our train.

I remember running along in the subway trying to keep up with the older boys. They kept urging me to go faster but I only had short, little legs. At the top of the last flight of stairs we could hear the underground train pull in with a big swoosh of air. The boys ran like mad and leapt down the stairs with me pelting along on their heels. They bounded across the platform and jumped on board. As I got there, a few seconds behind, the doors slid shut with me out there stranded on the platform. It was one of those frozen moments. I stared at them in horror as the doors clunked. At the window of the door I could see all the faces of the boys peering back out at me. Their faces mirrored mine but no amount of anguish was going to open those doors and with a squeal the train slid away.

I stood there in disbelief with my mind racing. I didn’t have a clue what to do. I didn’t know where I was going or how I was going to get there. I was utterly lost. I was eight years old, on an underground platform in the bowels of London, a long, long way from home. Then the tears started.

A man came across and asked me what was wrong. Between sobs I managed to tell him what had happened.
He very kindly took care of me, calmed me down and reassured me that my friends would be waiting for me at the next station.  I was not so sure. He calmly took me on the next train. We went along with me distraught and him reassuring me. I thought I’d never see them again. But sure enough at the next platform and there were my friends. They were as worried as me. They thought I was lost forever and they’d get the blame. They’d got off the train and were in a hopeless dilemma as to what they should do. They weren’t sure whether to wait and hope I’d be on the next train or to come back for me.

I rushed out and we all had a great reunion with much shouting and clamour. I’m not even sure if I thanked the kind gentleman who’d rescued me. He’d been an angel. I still feel guilty. But I was in such a state.

It didn’t matter anymore; we’d been reunited. I did not have to spend the rest of my life wandering the London underground. I had been saved.

 

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The Colonel, the Squat and the National Front – a true story

The Colonel, the Squat and the National Front

Back in 1970 Pete, my best mate, and I returned to college for our second year. Somehow, despite the hundreds of concerts, the Sci-fi novels that required reading, the friends that had to be entertained, the music that begged to be listened to and other essential business, we had managed to pass the exams (with a retake or two for me). With our usual meticulous planning and panache we turned up on the first day expecting everything to fall into place. It went as could have been predicted. We couldn’t find a room to rent and found ourselves on the streets. After a night in a phone box, which I can assure you does not make for a comfortable sleep, we headed off to the Students Union to seek help. Apparently there were no digs available. They kindly directed us to a squat on Ilford High Street. It was an empty shop. We were instructed to do a secret knock on the door and ask for ‘The Colonel’.

We found the place and performed his intricate knock that made me feel like one of the Goons in that sketch where they had to do a thousand knocks on the door.

We must have got the convoluted pattern right because after a while there was shuffling the other side and a voice, in a strong Scottish brogue, asked suspiciously who it was. We explained who we were, who had sent us and that we were to ask for ‘The Colonel’.

We stood in the road as a great deal of clanking and shifting took place the other side of the door. It opened a slot and a rheumy eye looked us up and down. Seemingly content, despite the long hair and brightly coloured clothes, he ascertained we were no threat, we weren’t the fascist National Front; we were students. The door then opened to reveal a middle-age man with grey hair, a clipped moustache and big eyebrows. He was wearing a kilt. He ushered us in quickly and we passed through the door into a dim stairwell. The cause of the clanking was immediately obvious. Above the door was suspended a huge body of metallic junk with everything from bike frames to parts of prams. It must have weighed a ton. Anyone forcing their way in would have had the whole lot descending on their head. The Colonel was prepared for bother. He wasn’t a Colonel for nothing. There was strategic planning evident.

Welcome to the squat.

The squat was the Colonel’s home but he kindly operated as a temporary residence for the dispossessed. There were quite a lot of them around in the East End of London at that time. Rachman, the gangster landlord, was still in operation, frightening people out of their homes and taking over the places to charge extortionate rents and pack in immigrants. He was making a fortune out of the misery of others.

The squat had a number of rooms. The Colonel had the front room. He was a Colonel from a Highland regiment and received his pension weekly. It was soon apparent as to why he was living in a squat and what he was spending his pension on.

In one of the other rooms there was a young couple with a three month old baby. They looked terrified and tearful. It later transpired that they had been targeted by Peter Rachman. They had been renting a room in a house that the Landlord wanted. They been told to go but as they did not have anywhere to go to, had ignored the warnings. One morning a bunch of goons arrived while the young man was out looking for a job. They had broken in, smashed up all their possessions, including the baby’s cot, and thrown everything out the window into the garden. They’d escorted mother and baby out to the street, threatened them with baseball bats and then proceeded to smash the stairs with a sledge-hammer so nobody could get back up.

No wonder the family were terrified. They’d rescued what they could of baby clothes and possessions and ended up at ‘The Colonel’s’.

Pete and I were shown into a bare room with filthy floorboards. I put my new cream-coloured ankle-length sheepskin coat on the floor as cushioning (I never got it clean again) and unrolled my sleeping bag on top of it. Pete unrolled his on the bare boards. We were home.

We all gathered in the Colonels big room that overlooked Ilford High Street, talked and watched the shoppers from on high. On Friday the Colonel received his pension and proceeded to blow it on scotch whiskey which he drank from an old chipped white enamel mug with a blue rim. The more he consumed the merrier he got and then would serenade us with song. He had an amazing ability to add ‘Ne’ to the end of every word.

One song stands out:

‘Wunderbarne’

‘Meinne Pretyne Wunderbarne’.

It was quite a feat and we were all struck dumb with admiration, or at least we were struck.

One Saturday morning we were subjected to a protest by the National Front against squatters. I bet Rachman was behind it. A huge threatening mob of Nazi’s appeared in the High Street, chanting, making Hitler salutes, pointing up at us and making threats. Seemingly they weren’t keen on squatters. Between this menacing mob, who were busy working themselves up into a frenzy, and us was a thin line of police. It was getting extremely violent and explosive as the mob grew to a hundred or so and the fury mounted. It began to look as if the handful of police were going to be swamped and we were going to end up as mincemeat. In hindsight this probably wasn’t helped by Pete and I sitting in the window with our feet on the shop front that jutted out below us, waving to, and mocking, the obnoxious fascist skinheads who did not seem at all pacified by a couple of long-haired freaks grinning down at them. Peace and love were not in their repertoire. They were baying for blood.

The furore eventually abated and somehow the police managed to keep them from storming the place.

We were only there for three weeks before finding a room but it was an experience.

The week following our departure the Colonel was arrested for indecent exposure.

One Saturday morning he had been partaking of his Scottish elixir of life and decided it was a good idea to demonstrate his vocal skills to the Saturday morning shoppers. He’d clambered out of the window on to the shop front, mug in hand, and proceeded to serenade the shoppers below with renditions all most likely based around the magic syllable ‘ne’.

The shoppers were not as enthralled as we had been. One of the ‘disgusted’ ladies had reported the event to the police. By standing on the front of the shop the Colonel had clearly revealed to all and sundry exactly what Scotsmen wear under their kilts. At least one of them thought it wasn’t a pretty sight. The inflamed ladies of Ilford achieved what the National Front could not and the squat was shut down.

Joey my Crow

Joey my Crow

 

Round where I was growing up they used to poke crows. That’s how I came by my pet crow Joey.

In order to cull the crows they would go along to the rookery with great long poles that reached right up to the top of the trees. They would poke the nests and knock the fledglings and eggs out.

My friend Tony and I went along after the pokers had gone and found two live fledglings. They were the ugliest things you could imagine with their transparent saggy skin, bulbous bellies and no feathers but we thought they were great. We took them home.

The little birds needed feeding every two hours. We mixed up this thick goo of egg, milk and bread. I would put a dollop of this paste on my finger and when I approached him Joey would stretch out, flap his rudimentary little wing stubs, open his beak wide and squawk loudly. He thought I was his Mum. I simply shoved the paste down his throat. Every now and then I would give him worms or bits of bacon to vary his diet. Both our birds seemed to thrive on it.

School was a problem. The teachers were not very understanding as to regarding the feeding necessities of crows and we doubted that they would be amenable to letting us out of class every two hours to go home to feed them. We got round that by taking our birds into school. As we thought that our teachers might take a dim view of us bringing our baby crows into school we simply did not tell them. Fortunately we had those big old wooden desks in our form-room which were quite deep and had lids. We were supposed to keep our books in them but ours were empty so we used them for crow rearing.

We made little nests out of paper and plonked the crows in. When you shut the lid it was dark inside and they went to sleep. At break and lunch we opened the lid and to everyone’s amazement they would squawk and clamour and we’d cram the egg and milk paste down their throats. It was magic. You shut the lid and they were silent. It was like turning the light on and off. Our classmates thought it was great and not one of them spragged to the teachers about it.

It amuses me to think that many other kids sat at those desks in the course of the day without ever knowing our crows were inside. They might have had quite a shock if they’d lifted those lids – but nobody ever did.

We did it for weeks, until our crows were fully grown, and never got caught.

I named my crow Joey. He grew into a fine handsome affectionate crow with inky black feathers that had a lovely blue sheen. When he was an adult I kept him in my shed. Every morning, and when I got home from school, I would go down to the shed and get him. He’d jump straight on my shoulder and nibble my ear.

I taught Joey to talk. Well he could say twelve words. When I went in to him he’d squawk ‘Hello’. He could say his name ‘Joey’. He was quite clear in his pronunciation.

I had to teach Joey to fly. I’d take him into the garden and throw him into the air. He’d flap to the ground and crash. Gradually he caught on to the idea and then the progress was rapid and he’d enjoy flying round and then sit on the roof. He’d always come back and land on my shoulder though.

One day I took him out front for a fly round somewhere different.

We had a neighbour called Mrs Drain who was very house-proud. She had a red tiled doorstep that she used to get on her knees and polish every single day. Joey saw her down below and decided she would make a good perch so he landed on her back.

It gave her such a fright. He was very big and heavy and had sharp claws. She wasn’t expecting a big bird to suddenly land on her. She jumped up with Joey hanging on to her and ran screaming down the road. Joey dug his claws in and flapped his wings. I can still picture her running back and forth shouting at the top of her voice with Joey clinging on for dear life.

She eventually forgave me.

I lost Joey when I went off to camp for two weeks leaving my Mum in charge. One day, while she was out shopping a man came round. He had lost his pet crow and heard from one of our neighbours that I had a crow in my shed. He thought it might be his crow. He knocked on the door but nobody was home. So he went down the bottom of the garden and opened the shed. Joey flew out.

My Mum said that Joey sat around on the roof for over a week but she couldn’t entice him down. She told me he was looking for me.

By the time I got home he’d gone. I never saw him again.

I hope he met up with a nice lady crow and impressed her with his line in human sweet-talk. She would have been sure to be impressed. My hope is that Joey’s descendants are squawking up in the trees right now, discussing the great god who had given life to their forebear by feeding him with the gooey elixir of life.

So if you hear a murder of crows up in the trees squawking something that sounds like ‘Joey’ or ‘Hello’, please let me know.

Vulcan Bombers Flying from Leconfield

As it seems the latest focus for Troll activity I thought I would dispel the stupid ridiculing for my assertion that Vulcan Bombers used to fly over my school.

I joined Beverley Grammar School in 1975. I can clearly remember Vulcan bombers taking off from Leconfield and going low across the school causing it to shudder. I am not sure how regular this was. I am also not sure if these planes were armed with nuclear bombs. I think that information was top secret. But it is perfectly possible that they were armed though it appears that following the introduction of the Polaris missiles the Vulcans were moved to other operations.

Why this should have been focused on for a target for abuse I am not sure.

Here’s an extract from Wikipedia:

In the 1950s Leconfield was a nominated ‘dispersal base’ for the RAF V bomber force.

The bombers were finally taken out of service in 1984.

Here’s further information about the siting of V Bombers:

http://www.users.zetnet.co.uk/mongsoft/vulcan_faqs_page.htm

I hope that puts an end to that senseless argument.

 

The crash

The crash

 

It was a dark, wet, dank March evening. I had been running an evening course on Rock Music. This evening it was the West Coast sound with a focus on Captain Beefheart. I remember that because I can remember gathering up my vinyl albums which had been in the boot of the car and had ended scattered down the road. Miraculously they were unscathed.

I had finished my class at nine-thirty and picked my two sons up from their grandmothers. We were heading home. That involved weaving down four miles of windy back lanes.

I came over the hump-back bridge near the golf course and turned the corner by the reservoir. I could see a pair of headlights coming towards me at speed but I was used to such things. As it approached I noted that the car concerned was going very fast. It must have braked for the bend.

What followed I saw as three separate images. They were so fast it was as if they were separate photo shots and not a continuous flow.

I saw the front wheels of the approaching car twitch.

It veered across.

It was broadside on and right in front of us.

There was an explosion.

I came to.

The front end of our car had disappeared. The whole bonnet and engine had been pushed into us and was steaming.

The other car was in front of us and on its side and there were cries and screams coming out of it.

The steering wheel of my car was back almost to the seat.

I turned to my oldest son. He was conscious. His face was covered in blood. He looked stunned. His legs were snapped and bent up in front of him. My other son in the back had taken his seat belt off to lie on the seat. He had been thrown forward into the front seats and was beginning to cry in pain.

The doors of my car were bent into Vs by the impact.

People started appearing on the scene. They had heard the crash and rushed to see if they could do anything. I gathered my wits and started kicking at the door. Someone wrenched at it and we prised it open. I managed to clamber out. I got into the back to see how my younger son was. I could see he had bad injuries and was in a lot of pain but it did not seem to be life-threatening – so far as I could tell. My son in the front seat seemed far worse. There did not seem to be any room for his lower legs. I imagined them severed or crushed.

There was nothing I could do. I talked to him. A man told me not to worry. Help was on the way. There was nothing I could do.

A doctor arrived, rigged up a drip and gave my son some pain relief. I was guided further away while they worked on him.

Eventually the ambulance arrived, police cars and a fire engine. They cut the roof off the car and peeled it back. They removed my younger son into the ambulance and rushed him away.

That same man kept talking to me, telling me it would be alright, the experts were there; they knew what they were doing. My sons were in good hands. It helped but I was so helpless.

My wife arrived. She was distraught. The people that had come to help included a friend of ours. They phoned my wife and told her the news.

It took two hours to cut my older son free. After an age they managed to get him into an ambulance.

At the hospital my boys were rushed into surgery. I was x-rayed. I had bad bruising, multiple cuts on legs, face and across my chest. My eye-lid was cut right through. But I was alright. I could walk.

My older son had suffered breaks to both femurs, a broken hand and glass impacted into his face. They were life threatening injuries. His chances of surviving had been 10%. The blood loss usually induced shock. The doctor’s rapid arrival with that drip had saved his life.

My younger son had a dislocated hip, broken leg and hand.

They were in traction for weeks, in the case of the eldest – for three months. But they lived and walked again, even played football and snow-boarded.

They released me from hospital the next day. My wife picked me up. I had a compulsion to visit the scene of the crash and go to the garage where they had taken the car. When I walked in, very gingerly, the garage owner went pale and sat down.

He told me that he travelled the county picking up cars from accidents and he had never seen a car so badly damaged in which there were not multiple fatalities.

I had to sit in the car and run through the events until I had everything clear in my mind.

The car that had gone into us had been travelling at around a 100 MPH. A group of teenagers had been out joy-riding. It had happened so fast that I did not have time to hit the brake. The impact was around 130 MPH.

The thing that had saved me was that the impact had been at an angle. It had struck the passenger side first pushing the steering wheel to one side and throwing me around it and into the windscreen. The seat-belt had stopped me being thrown through.

That impact might have been worse for my older son but then we had all survived. If it had been full on, we might all have died.

I only climbed back out of that car when I had the whole thing clear. I had to be sure that there was nothing I could have done.

Then I went home.

 

 

Acid casualties – Jeff Evans – a friend

Acid casualties – Jeff Evans – a friend

There were a group of boys in the year above me at school who were into the alternative life-style. With them it was not so much about the music or even the Beats, it was an attitude. They adopted the long hair and rebellion and were renowned for their parties.
There weren’t many in my year who were as rebellious so I tended to gravitate towards them and was accepted in.
Jeff was one of these. He was a small boy with long curly hair a little reminiscent of Syd Barrett. He was a very good photographer.
Jeff always took things to the extreme. One of his predilections was to drink Demerol or Collis Brown’s cough medicine. He would consume bottles of them. Back then they had morphine in them. Jeff took so much that on one occasion he went blind for a while.
Most people would have realised that this was probably doing them harm and stopped. Not Jeff. He went straight back to it.
Jeff left school at eighteen to pursue his photography. I stayed on a further year and then went to college.
In the summer I was working as a road-sweeper and looked up to find Jeff sauntering down the road. He recognised me and came over to have a chat. He was very friendly, asked me what I was doing, and told me that he was living in a flat a little further down the road. He told me he was going for a newspaper but would be back in five minutes and perhaps I could take a break and come up for a coffee. That sounded good.
I worked my way up the road towards where Jeff had indicated.
Then I noticed Jeff. He was peering round a tree at me. He darted from one tree to another, hiding behind the trunk. Then scuttled into his house and disappeared.
It was too strange for words. But I figured that he’d changed his mind about the coffee.
That evening I met up with some friends and related what had happened. They told me that Jeff had become very strange. He’s been smoking a lot of dope and dropping acid and something had happened. He’d be perfectly normal and then flip into a paranoid state. He thought everyone was talking about him, spying on him. He imagined machines in the walls and conspiracies. It was very sad. Jeff was one of those delightful, congenial guys who wouldn’t hurt anyone – a lovely guy. It seemed to fit with what I’d observed though.
A few weeks later I heard that Jeff had killed himself. He jumped into an express train.
I was told that, in front of a number of school children, he had climbed up on to the parapet of a railway bridge, waited for the express train to come along and serenely stepped off.
I often wonder if there was anything any of us could have done. If I had gone in for coffee that day, would it have made any difference?
I doubt it.

My first Captain Beefheart concert in 1968

My first Captain Beefheart concert in 1968

 

I was introduced to Captain Beefheart and the West Coast Acid Rock sound by a very long-haired friend of mine called Mike. His aim in life was to grow his hair as long as he could. To that end he lived in fear of split-ends so he refused to either comb or brush his hair. He would run his fingers through it.

Mike was also fond of LSD. He would take a tab and go up to London to Middle Earth or the UFO to catch Pink Floyd or any of the West Coast Bands. He would tell me about coming out of an all-nighter into the daylight while still tripping and seeing the mounted police morphing into centaurs.

Mike’s favourite bands were Country Joe and the Fish, the Doors, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. He would play them to me incessantly and I loved them too.

At the time I was taking my A Levels. I had a place at university sorted. All I had to do was achieve the grades. Mike was a year older and was already away at college in York doing a history degree.

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band came across for their first tour. I already had that first album ‘Safe as Milk’ which I thought contained some of the best music I had heard. I knew I had to see them. They were appearing a week prior to my crucial Biology exam. That was fine. I knew that I wouldn’t get back from the concert to two or three in the morning but that was alright. I had a whole week to recover and do a spot of revision. I wasn’t very good at revision. I tended to leave it to the night before.

Eagerly I went up to London to see them only to discover the concert was postponed. Rockette Morton was ill. They put the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation on in their place. Now I liked Aynsley but he was by no means my favourite Blues band. I was extremely disappointed.

During the concert they announced that they were going to do a special double-header the following week. Not only was Captain Beefheart going to play but they were putting on John Mayall as well.

Well that floored me.

John Mayall was a favourite of mine. He had Pete Green on guitar. When that was added to Beefheart it was a package not to be missed.

To be fair I did think it over for a day or two. I knew how important those exams were. If I messed up that was my whole future. My career was out the window.

But then I never messed up Biology. I had done well in every test. There was no need to panic.

You would think that I might have found a compromise and really put in an effort on the revision on the days leading up to the exam. Unfortunately my adolescent brain simply did not function that way.

I went to the concert. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band completely blew my mind. The album had been good but live they were in a different universe. I had never heard music like it. It was so exciting, complex and dynamic that it had me bouncing and beaming right through. It was so incredibly good that I only have the vaguest memory of John Mayall. They did all the best stuff off that first album – Electricity, Yellow Brick Road, Drop Out Boogie and Abba Zabba. I still think of it as one of the best concerts I have ever been to.

I did get back at three o clock and my Biology exam started at 9.00 o clock. But I was too excited by what I’d seen. I couldn’t possibly sleep.

Needless to say I missed my university place by one grade. That could conceivably have been one single mark. I ended up going to a polytechnic and not becoming a doctor.

I worked out at some point that the Beefheart concert cost me between one and three million pounds.

But it was worth every penny. You can’t buy memories.

On my arse in sewage – one of the best jobs I ever had

On my arse in sewage – one of the best jobs I ever had

Strangely the two best jobs I’ve ever had, apart from teaching, are road sweeping and sewage work.
Road sweeping was great because I had plenty of time and the company was good too. I could get in late and leave early, scoot round at triple speed and get the job done and the other council workers were a hotbed of revolution and dissent. We spent extended breaks arguing about the world, politics and the social order. It was fab.
But working with sewage was my kind of job (once you got used to the smell).
This bit is worth persevering with. You may find it amusing.
To start with we did not begin operations until ten o’ clock. I could come in late, grab a brew, sit and read, natter and kick back. The work came in bursts.
My first task was to check the grills coming in from the sewers. I had a big grappling hook and I had to clear anything caught up in the grill. All the toilets, sinks and drains emptied into the sewer and came out as a huge pipe with a grill over the opening. It was usually rags that were caught up. The boss told me that they had once removed an armchair and a dead horse. I don’t think he was kidding. You wonder how they ever got into the sewer system.
After that it was reading time.
Then it was clearing the apertures on the revolving arms of the clinker beds. The raw sewage was sprayed over the clinker. Inside the beds lived millions of larvae which fed on the organic material thus removing it from the sewage. The holes in the revolving arms blocked up (usually with condoms) and had to be cleared. I had a little hooked instrument for that job.
The sewage then ran into settling beds that resembled huge swimming pools. All the solids settled to the bottom. Twice a week these had to be emptied.
This was fun.
First all the water was pumped out of the settling beds. This left about six feet of liquid sludge.
Then the sludge was pumped out on to sludge beds.
Then came the interesting bit. Someone had to climb twenty feet down to the bottom of the settling tank with a squeegee board and push the remainder of the sludge into the central channel to be pumped out. This sludge was like smelly liquid mud a good foot deep.
As I was the young kid I was the one to do it. With squeegee in hand I set off down the ladder. I was equipped with waders. It was easy.
However, when I reached six feet from the bottom I encountered the problem. The ladder was coated in a good inch of sludge.
You could not walk down and not get coated.
It left you with two options. You could try to go down the ladder without using your hands and risk falling off or you could jump and risk slipping over.
I tried it both ways. Firstly I tried going down without using hands, nearly fell off and had to grab hold quickly. I didn’t like that. So next time I jumped. Firstly the liquid shit splashed out in a slow motion splash and came back at you and secondly your feet skidded away and you went backwards with a loud plop. The waders were not sufficient.
After that I just went down and held on. I figured I was going to get covered so best to get on with it.
Once there it took an hour shoving the sludge into the channel. It was quite relaxing.
No matter how much I washed and showered I could not seem to eliminate the aroma. I got through a ton of after-shave.
The best thing about the job was that I always seemed to be able to find a seat on the bus going home.

The worst job I ever had – working in the factory

The worst job I ever had – working in the factory

The worst job ever was factory work. It is soul destroying.
The day started at 8.00 am. sharp. You had to punch your card into a machine. If you were more than three minutes late they docked you quarter of an hour. If you were more than five minutes it was half an hour. I hated getting up so I was invariably late which meant I had to sit there doing the job for free for half an hour.
The factory made loudspeaker cones for Marconi.
My job was to man a machine that trimmed the edges off the cones.
I had to learn a routine. I was supplied with a pile of speaker cones. Mine were oval six inch speaker cones. I picked one up with my left hand and placed it on the mould on the machine. If you did not get it perfectly aligned it was trimmed wrongly and had to be discarded. I pulled the lever with my right hand. The machine punched down with great force and trimmed the edges off. I picked the trimmed cone and put it on a stick with my right hand while picking another up from the other heap with my left and repeating the process. Once you achieved a rhythm it was fast and easy. It was getting that rhythm that was hard.
I was the second in line. The first guy had a machine that punched a hole in the centre. The third guy fitted it in a metal frame. The fourth guy screwed a few screws in to hold it in place.
It was piece-work. We had a rate of pay that related to the numbers of speakers produced. There were long lines of us. Each line worked on a different size or shape of speaker.
At the first break it was explained to me, with a few punches, knees and kicks, that everyone’s pay depended on the slowest in the line. I was the slowest. I speeded up quickly.
I sat mindlessly at my machine going through the rhythm and singing every song I could remember. By the end of the second week I was going out of my mind with boredom.
I was working the summer – just six weeks. I drew a chart up on the wall with every hour marked up on it. Every break I’d go along and cross the hours off so I could see my progress.
One of the guys came along and asked what I was doing. I told him what it was. He was angry and tore it down.
One guy was coming up to retirement. He was sixty five years old and had started work in the place as an eleven year old sweeping floors! He had the most skilled job in the place. He operated the suction machine. There was a huge vat of liquid papery pulp. He had a suction machine with a mould the shape of the speaker. He dipped it in the pulp and sucked the pulp on to the mould. When it was the right thickness he withdrew the suction machine and plopped the cone on to a pile by reversing the suction. His was skilled because he had to regulate the consistency of the pulp in the vat and judge the length of suction to get exactly the right thickness.
He had been working in the place for fifty four years. I was in doubt as to whether I was going to manage six weeks. It was purgatory.
The only job worth having in the place was the dope room. Once the speakers had been trimmed they were sent to be lacquered. They were passed through a trough of lacquer and then put to one side to dry.
The dope room was a long sealed room. One guy worked in there all day, dipping speaker cones and drying them. If you were in the room for longer than two minutes you were so woozy that you could hardly stand. I walked through it every shift.
The dope guy told me that he loved his job. He did all the over-time he could get and even worked his holidays.
I do not think health and safety had been thought of in that factory.

Rockin’ the Curriculum

Rockin’ the Curriculum

In the late 70s my Rock Club at school went from strength to strength. I wish I could say the same for our family finances. We were floundering.
Then I had this brilliant idea.
I would run a History of Rock music course as an evening class. I approached the college adult education and they were keen. I set about it. I had lots of vinyl albums, I’d lived through it and I’d seen most of the major acts. Easy. I was used to talking about it all with my students. I knew my stuff. What could be better than playing the music you loved and talking about it and getting paid for doing it?
What could go wrong?
I could make some money to help tide us over and I would enjoy myself at the same time. It was a win win.
I produced some flyers, spread the word and set about offering my first class. As far as I could tell nobody had ever run such a course in Britain. I was the pioneer.
I needed twelve good people and true. I attracted ten. The college ummed and aahed and decided to let it run. I was to be paid £15 an hour. That meant I would probably, after tax, clear £18 for the two hours. It wasn’t a huge sum but it would make a bit of difference. We were desperate. It was 1978 and we had three children.
It took a lot more preparation than I had envisaged. I had to organise what we covered in the two hours, select the tracks I was going to play, check and research what I was going to say and produce information sheets. It took hours.
My students were all keen. They had areas of expertise. They expected me to know what I was talking about. I was being paid.
That’s where the reality hit home.
My record collection reflected my tastes, which were pretty wide, but there were holes that needed plugging. The weekends were spent trawling around the second-hand record shops and buying up material to plug the gaps. That was fun too. I started to meet a number of interesting people, some of whom I’m friends with until this day.
However, it was not doing anything for our budget. I was spending more on essential albums than I was bringing in.
My course was running well though. It was the only course in the college to actually increase in numbers. By the time I finished it had gone up to sixteen.
My record club at school was also flourishing. I started taking students along to concerts as far afield as Leeds and Sheffield as part of our unofficial extra-curricular activities.
Later, as a Deputy Head, I managed to convince the Head that Rock Music needed to be on the curriculum. I devised a course for the Sixth Form which was ostensibly Skill Development. I delivered a couple of lessons on a Rock genre or musician and they had to analyse my presentation in terms of verbal skills, body language and materials used. Then they formed in small groups and produced presentations on their choices and we analysed their performances and gave pointers on how to improve. They took it very seriously. I remember one group dressed up in Disco gear and produced a dance routine as part of their presentation. It was a hoot. The confidence the students gained was brilliant. It went through the roof and we all had a good time. The students skills are giving presentations also improved which went straight into interview skills. Every school should do it.
Nick Harper was a great favourite with the kids. Not only did I organise trips to see him play but he came into school quite regularly and did a performance for them. He went up into the Sixth Form room and sat around, playing, talking and showing them how it was done. He came into my PSHE lessons and talked to them about song-writing, life on the road and guitar playing. He gave performances in the main hall. Nick was a star in every sense of the word.
I often think about reviving those courses. I did three of them. They lasted two years each. But it was quite a commitment.
I do not think I have the time now that I’ve retired.
But I’m still rockin’ even if the curriculum isn’t.